05/21/08 – Grenache goodness

By Jesse on May 19, 2008


Inspired by our recent Celebrating Sémillon tasting, in which we embraced a long-neglected varietal and finally gave it the attention it deserved, this week we embark upon a similar humanitarian effort — on the red side.  Grenache is, by many accounts, the most widely-planted red grape in the world.  Why, then, have the Young Winos never devoted a weekly meeting to tasting it exclusively?

The answer, actually, is pretty simple: until very recently, it’s been difficult to find single-varietal Grenache.  The grape is hugely popular worldwide, but it’s most often used as a blending grape (as in Rioja and Australia), as a majority grape for others to be blended with (as in Chateauneuf-du-Pape and elsewhere in the southern Rhone), or as anonymous juice which is made into cheap, uninteresting jug wine (as in California’s Central Valley for the past half-century).  Only recently have producers started realizing that if this grape is good enough to form the majority of some of France’s most interesting red wines, it might well be good enough to stand on its own. 

Don’t believe me?  Read what the wide world of the web has to say:

Wine.com: High sugars give this grape character and ensure a full-bodied wine, but lower levels of acid and tannin enhance its candidacy as a blender. Intensive pruning on older vines gives Grenache enough structure to maintain its balance as a sole varietal, but many vintners rely on blending to keep this alcohol-happy grape in check.

WinePros: Although some 100% varietal wines are produced from Grenache, particularly in Spain’s Rioja and from some “old vines” plantings in California, it is mostly used to “fill out” red blends and soften harsher partners, such as Syrah and Carignan.  On its own, grenache makes fleshy, heady, very fruity wines in their youth. They tend to age rapidly, showing tawny colors and prone to oxidation or maderization after only a relatively short time in bottle.

AppellationAmerica: The emergence of Rhône blends in California, enthusiastically promoted by a band of winemakers known as the Rhone Rangers, has sparked an increase in plantings of Grenache in more esteemed California viticultural zones. Significant acreage of this grape is found in Santa Barbara and Monterey counties.

WineGeeks: High yields and heavy irrigation are its foe, with pale reds of little flavor as the result. But careful pruning and old vines can produce wines of surprising depth and flavors of spices, jammy black fruits and sometimes a certain gamey or meaty character.

WinePros (again):
The general character and mouthfeel of Grenache wines are more distinctive and identifiable than any particular aromas or flavors.

Your mission?  Find, and bring to the meeting, a bottle of 100% Grenache.  Look for bottles from Australia, Spain, France, and California.  (The one exception to the 100% rule is if you bring a bottle from the southern Rhone, i.e. Gigondas or Chateauneuf-du-Pape or something.  This will likely be majority Grenache, and will be interesting for comparison purposes.)  You may find a rosé made from the grape, especially in Spain.  Feel free to bring rosé as long as it’s 100% Grenache.

Snarky question #1: “Um, can’t I just bring a box of Franzia, since most red California jug wine is made from Grenache?”  No, you can’t bring anything in a box or a jug.  Nice try.

Snarky question #2: “Um, what about Grenache Blanc?  You’re being racist in not letting us bring all types of Grenache.  Why can’t I bring Grenache Blanc?”  Go for it.  Try to find a bottle of 100% Grenache Blanc.  I dare you.

We’ll be returning to Jason’s nautically-themed apartment in parking-challenged Brentwood.  The RSVP situation is as follows: new members have eight spots reserved for them at each and every meeting, with preference within those spots given to newbies who were denied admittance due to space constraints in recent weeks.  Please do not RSVP in the positive if you’re not sure you can make it, as this will deny someone else the opportunity of attending the meeting.  If you do RSVP and then need to cancel, please inform me as soon as possible.

Once you’ve gotten your confirmation e-mail, go out in search of a 100% Grenache.  If you can’t find one, or if you’re just feeling lazy, no problem — just bring us a $10 bill, because we love that!!  (We depend on those donations to keep the Young Winos viable, so please do not hesitate to bring one in lieu of a bottle.)  Either way, we’ll see you bad boys and girls on Wednesday at 9pm.